Inspired by authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, and Madeleine L’Engle, Beth determined to become a writer when she was still in grade school. That path meandered through an attempt at astronomy, a linguistics degree, and a brief flirtation with anthropology, but during it all, she worked on her writing, producing numerous short stories, and even completing two (unpublished) novels while in high school and college. Since deciding to focus on her writing, she has published a number of fantasy short stories (and a lone science fiction piece) in various magazines and anthologies. The Herd Lord, a novella about a war among centaurs, was published in 2011, her first full-length novel, Etched in Fire was released in 2015 by Alban Lake Publishing, and her short story anthology Seeing Green came out in July 2017. Etched in Fire’s sequel, A Gift of Flame, is being released by Alban Lake Publishing in the Fall of 2018. Beth’s ideas are sparked by music – Celtic folk, classical, and classic rock – and she sings, plays guitar and harp, and writes songs as well as dabbling in jewelry-making and other assorted crafts. But it is her sons, Dylan, David, and Alex, who keep her striving for excellence, so that she can make them proud of her.
1. Will you tell us about your most recent published work?
A Gift of Flame is the sequel to my fantasy novel Etched in Fire, and though in many ways the two books have different tones (largely due to the life-changing events that happen to Maelen, my main character, in the first book), they both deal with similar issues – how people get through terrible things. In Etched in Fire, Maelen is caught in the middle of an occupied city, and it changes how she sees everything. In A Gift of Flame, she is obsessed with vengeance, and trying to find someone to teach her magic when she stumbles into a deadly situation that escalates from some seemingly ordinary bandit raids into a threat to the realm. During this time she is trying to control her magic and forge new relationships, even though she is afraid to get too close to people because of how many she has lost.
My friend said to me, “This is a book about women,” and though I hadn’t consciously intended it that way, I think she’s right. The women in the story each react to the unfolding situation in completely different ways, and the contrast between their reactions is a good part of the story’s tapestry.
2. What personal challenges do you face as a writer?
After writing for forty-plus years, I’m pretty comfortable with the technical end of writing, but, as I fight clinical depression, it can be very tough to actually get myself writing. Sometimes it is very hard. I do it anyway, because it’s worth it, but I’ve spent years training myself to remember that no matter how badly I feel something came out on the page, I can go back and revise – which I can’t do unless there’s something already written.
On the practical end of writing, I have problems with marketing, marketing, and marketing. I have a great deal of trouble reaching out to other people to get them to promote/buy my books. This is true both of my small press traditionally published works, and my self-published anthology. I also don’t have reliable transportation, which is a major handicap in going to author events, signings, etc.
3. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Two things. The first is finding something unique to say. I don’t mind using classic elements, but I don’t simply want to repeat the same stories over again. I don’t have any trouble finding inspiration as such, but I need to feel a story is worth writing in order to want to write it. The second is that, somewhere in the middle of any given work, whether short story or novel, I start to be utterly convinced that everything I write is terrible, and that no one will ever want to read it. This can make it significantly harder to write, but I’ve learned I just have to push through to the end, so I can start to make sense of what did and didn’t work.
4. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
It really didn’t. I’d spent enough years working on my writing and sending things through the rejection mill that when my short stories started getting published, I decided I was finally doing something right. I still try to improve as much as I can, and I don’t want having some limited publishing success derail that. If I can write something better this year than last, that’s what I want to do.
5. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have? Will you tell us about them?
Oh, my, that’s a question and a half. I wrote a children’s book in third grade that my dad luckily got me not to send off to a publisher’s. It was about sentient planets, and owed a great deal to Greek mythology. When I was in seventh grade, I wrote a twenty page science fiction story which I got to read to my English class. It was horrible, but I was very proud of it. I spent years developing the world around that story, including writing a language, creating detailed maps of everything from vegetation to rainfall, working out mineral structures that don’t exist on earth, creating spaceships, and writing reams of poetry for it. I even came up with a touch screen computer before any were ever on the market! None of its iterations has ever seen print, but it’s still something very important to me.
When I was in eighth grade, I wrote The Trouble with Jumping, my first full-length novel. It was a science fiction novel about teleporters. My general idea was that I could make it longer by adding a new sub-plot when I needed to stretch things out. As a result, it was a chaotic mess full of poorly developed characters. I re-wrote it twice, the third version in my first year in college. By then, I had begun to understand that the problem with it wasn’t that my writing skills needed improvement at that point, but that my world view when I started it was that of an eighth-grader, and that I really couldn’t fix it in a way to make it a mature, adult book. I don’t regret abandoning it, but I learned a lot in the process.
In college I started two books: The Roots of Healing, and The Masters of Dragon Castle, both fantasy. The second was my first experiment in writing a set amount of words per day, and it worked very well for me. It still wasn’t a great story, but it had some interesting and unique things about it, and I might someday go back and look to see if I can salvage some of it.
The Roots of Healing was a different matter. When I started it, I had just begun to develop my adult style, also writing it with a certain number of words per day. It wasn’t strong writing, but there were things in it that I wanted to explore more fully, and which helped move me into a more mature style. It’s a rather divided work, because I stopped writing for a while post-college, when I was in the middle of it. I picked it back up several years later, by which time my style had matured significantly, and so halfway through, the writing gets a lot better. At some time I would like to re-write it. I did write and sell a short story which takes place a number of years before the novel but in the same world, and I was quite proud of it.
Other books I’ve written that haven’t been published: four books in a series from the same world as Etched in Fire and A Gift of Flame, one of which I am in the process of revising for a self-publishing project; several partly-finished novels that I want to write now that I have more ability to match my ideas; and tons of short stories, some of which are related to my novels, some of which are not.
6. Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I’d be tremendously happy if I could get reviews; it’s one of the perpetual issues with the small press/self-publishing industry. I don’t read my rejection letters, other than to assure myself of what they are, because I already struggle with enough self-esteem issues that something of that sort can send me into a tailspin about how I’m really talentless. It doesn’t help my writing to be told that someone doesn’t like it, it just makes me more afraid to write. So I try to completely ignore that end of the process when I can.
7. Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
I might have been known to stick in a couple of Easter eggs for my friends.
8. What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I am friends with a number of published and unpublished writers. Currently I’m in a workshop with both, and it’s tremendously helpful. Useful feedback is crucial to being able to improve, and writers understand the process in a way that people who haven’t spent as much time obsessing over their words do. Other indie writers in particular are helpful in letting me know what opportunities are available for signings and sales in the local area, which is also helpful. I also appreciate such things as a big-name writer of my acquaintance being willing to announce on Facebook that he’s had a rejection letter (pointing out that it happens to everyone), and a number of people who’ve had some real success in the field demonstrating how to be decent human beings who don’t think they’re better just because they’ve gotten to a place few of us reach.
9. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Just keep writing. It’s worth it.
10. What are common traps for aspiring writers?
The single biggest trap I see is publishing before one’s writing is ripe. Because self-publishing has become so easy and relatively inexpensive, it’s easy to start putting finished projects out there that haven’t been allowed to blossom into what they are capable of becoming. The biggest problem with this is that if someone achieves success right away, their writing may never get to the point where it would have if they had worked harder to get there. (I’ve seen this problem with traditionally published authors, too, so it’s not just a self-publishing problem). I’m not saying that there aren’t plenty of good self-published authors out there – I’ve read a number of them – or that self-published authors don’t work on their craft – many of them work very hard on it – but that rush to publish is, IMHO, a mistake.
11. What’s the best way to market your books?
I would love to know the answer to this question!!!
12. What is your favorite childhood book?
Just one? I mean, if I had to pick, it’s The Little Prince by Antoine de St. Exupery, but I also passionately love the Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, A Wrinkle in Time and others by Madeleine L’Engle, a number of Heinlein juveniles, problematic as they are, a ton of Andre Norton books I remember fondly, and almost everything I ever found by Alexander Key.